Director Isaac Ezban’s Mexican chiller Evil Eye (Mal de Ojo, 2022) has it all: supernatural horror, folk horror, generational horror, and more, and he blends everything together masterfully to create a film that instantly cemented itself on my list of top 10 fright-fare features of 2022.
Young teenager Nala (Paola Miguel) is going through a difficult time. Her younger sister Luna (Ivanna Sofia Ferro) has life-threatening health conditions, and is receiving the majority of the attention from the girls’ mother Rebecca (Samantha Castillo) and father Guillermo (Arap Bethke). Nala’s selfishness, jealousy, and bitterness outweigh her concern and grief toward Luna, and those negative qualities only worsen when the parents take the girls to the remote estate of Rebecca’s elderly mother Josefa (Ofelia Medina) in an attempt to try something different to cure Luna.
Nala at first tolerates Josefa, though she is wary of the woman. After Josefa’s housekeeper Abigail (Paloma Alvamar) regales Nala and Luna with a local legend about witchcraft, Nala begins suspecting that Josefa may be a witch, and her suspicions grow after her parents leave the children with Josefa in charge for a few days.
Rich in atmosphere and gorgeous visuals with stunning set design — with beautiful cinematography by Isi Sarfati, who also shot Ezban’s superb 2015 science fiction mind-blower The Similars — Evil Eye uses dark fairy tale elements as it focuses on Nala’s coming of age story. Her defiance of authority strengthens as she pits herself squarely against the rigid Josefa, who uses her brusque behavior under the guise of tough love toward her granddaughter. Miguel is absolutely fantastic in her lead portrayal of the rebellious Nala, and Medina is terrific as the girl’s foil. The rest of the cast is also top-notch, with Ferro giving a superb portrayal as the frail, frightened Luna.
Special mention needs to be made of the incredible practical effects and makeup work, which ranges from nasty-looking wounds to some full-body witch creepiness that takes place during Abigail’s telling of a local supernatural legend. There’s more, but let’s leave that for first-time viewers to discover.
Ezban’s three previous feature films — The Incident (2014), The Similars, and Parallel (2018) — are mind-benders rooted in science fiction, specifically with time shifting and alternate realities at the forefront, and horror elements at play. Evil Eye is his first full-on horror outing, and it is arguably his most accessible and strongest effort yet. He cowrote the screenplay with Junior Rosario and Edgar San Juan, and the result is a perfectly paced gothic story that incorporates Mexican folklore.(4.5 / 5)
Evil Eye screens as part of A Night of Horror International Film Festival, which takes place at Dendy Cinemas Newtown, Sydney, Australia, from October 17th until October 23rd, 2022. For more information, visithttps://www.anightofhorror.com.